Disney (DIS -3.20%) is now just a couple of weeks away from the grand opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. The first phase of the ambitious 14-acre expansion opens at Disneyland in California at the end of this month. A debut at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida follows three months later.
It's fair to say that this is Disney's most important theme park move at its stateside resorts in two decades. You have to go back to the opening of Disney's Animal Kingdom in 1998 and Disney's California Adventure in 1999 -- entire theme parks -- to find the last time the media giant has introduced potential game-changers like it will its Star Wars-fueled additions in 2019.
Let's go over some of the reasons Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge had better deliver on the hype.
1. Theme parks continue to set the tone at Disney
Disney posted financial results on Wednesday, and once again we're seeing its theme-parks segment -- now reclassified as parks, experiences, and products -- bail out sloppy performances elsewhere. The 5% increase in-year-over-year revenue may not seem like much, but it was the only segment to see its top line move higher for the fiscal second quarter.
The news gets even better on the bottom line, where the segment's operating income rose 15%, making this the only division posting growth in its operating profit. Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge will keep the gains coming through the next couple of quarters, but the two new attractions and general themed experience will have to be jaw-dropping for the spike in turnstile clicks to be sustainable.
2. Disney is going on a Star Wars film sabbatical
The House of Mouse has learned that too much of a good thing can sting in the long run. Box office returns for Star Wars spinoff flicks have been disappointing, and Disney is responding to the saturation by slowing the tempo. Franchise buffs will have to wait another three years for the next theatrical release after Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker hits the local multiplex in December.
This won't be the end of Star Wars content. Disney+ is already working on spinoff shows for the streaming service. However, with a tactical retreat at the movie theater, there will be a lot more brand-sustaining work done at Disney's theme parks.
3. Flight of Passage can't be a fluke
Disney runs the world's most visited theme parks, setting the standard for everyone else. However, a lot of its more recent attractions have been duds at worst, or phoning it in at best. Toy Story Land at Disney World opened last year, adding a richly themed universe, but in terms of rides, we're talking about little more than a whimsical kiddie coaster and a carnival flat ride. A lot of new attractions have been tweaks to existing rides or stuff that folks can experience somewhere else. It was only the 2017 addition of Flight of Passage -- the flying banshee simulator at its Avatar-themed land -- that truly raised the bar on what's possible for Disney's famous imagineers.
Go back a decade, and it's hard to think of any new ride outside of Flight of Passage that has truly changed the game. Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge has two potential bar raisers. Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run will open in the first phase. The more immersive Rise of the Resistance attraction will open later this year.
Disney needs the new rides to be fan favorites, to elevate both the Star Wars and Disney brands. Jaws will need to drop, because that's the easiest way to coax money out of pocketbooks.